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Locked down Down Under

By Gideon Rozner, National Review

When you think about all the twisted, horrible ideas that so-called progressives have unleashed on the 21st century, it’s actually somewhat amazing that banal, garden-variety safetyism, of all things, has been the straw to break freedom’s back.

At least that is what’s happened here in COVID-era Australia. Whatever happened back in March 2020, it has set off some kind of bureaucratic chain reaction — one that has overwhelmed our checks and balances, upended almost every norm of liberal democratic governance, and radically altered the relationship between state and citizen, perhaps for decades.

Almost 18 months after the coronavirus hit our shores, Victoria and New South Wales — our two largest states, making up almost 60 percent of Australia’s population — are under lockdown. Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, is at the time of this writing about to surpass London’s record as the most locked-down city in the world, clocking up a combined 207 days and counting.

Our lockdowns are also among the world’s harshest. Here in Melbourne, you’re permitted to leave your home for no longer than two hours a day for exercise and once more to go to the shops. A curfew is in place between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Travel farther than three miles from your home is prohibited. Fines for breaching these and sundry subsidiary restrictions range from $1,300 to $15,000 (U.S. dollars).

The rest of the country is technically “open,” but many places are subject to various restrictions, including mask mandates — even outdoors — and occupancy limits so stringent that they render many businesses unprofitable. And lockdowns are never far away anyway, as state leaders tend to trigger stay-at-home orders after absurdly low case numbers. Sydney’s lockdown was declared in June when the state had just 82 active cases. Melbourne’s lockdown needed only six.

Freedom of movement within Australia has been more or less extinguished. Each state government has — probably unconstitutionally — imposed convoluted entry requirements for interstate visitors, and borders between states are often closed altogether.

Entry requirements are sometimes so strict that returning residents cannot even get into their own state, a problem that has recently seen encampments sprout up along the border between Victoria and New South Wales — effectively, Australia now has a class of internally displaced people.

Going overseas is also prohibited, even for dual citizens and permanent residents, which in any other situation would trigger a small diplomatic incident. It is possible to get an exemption, but more often than not exemptions are refused.

In most cases, these restrictions have been made not by the legislature but by unelected health bureaucrats who have extraordinary powers under open-ended emergency legislation. In fact, parliaments themselves have often been suspended under the pretext of preventing infections. Just last month, for example, an upcoming session of the Victorian parliament in Melbourne was quietly canceled, pursuant to orders by an opaque government body known only as the “COVID-19 Response Division.”

At a time when the political and cultural elite have never been more indifferent to the centuries-old traditions of liberal democratic governance, we may be seeing in Australia the first glimpses of the “post-democratic” state. Australia may end up being the first case study of the proverbial society that traded a lot of liberty for a little security.

Read more at National Review.

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